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It's a good thing Al Golden had to face down a stern challenge during his five years at Temple, because there is no way a coach with ordinary collegiate experience could have handled everything that went on during his first year-plus at Miami.
At Temple, Golden was charged with recasting a program that had developed a culture of losing -- on and off the field -- and had become utterly irrelevant to its fans. Taking the Owls from the dregs of the FBS, and that's no understatement, to a bowl game was one of the most remarkable accomplishments in recent college football history. Withstanding and ultimately thriving in those circumstances made Golden a hot property.
But there is no way he could have imagined what was waiting for him in Coral Gables when he arrived last winter. It was one thing to handle the decaying fortunes of the once-proud, once-loud Hurricanes and quite another to be blindsided by reports that booster Nevin Shapiro provided illegal benefits to everybody from players to Sebastian the Ibis. While Golden tries to make Miami a contender again, he must wait to see what the NCAA decides to do with the 'Canes. Some people have called for the death penalty. While that's not going to happen, sanctions are coming, and they could torpedo the progress Golden has made since taking over. Talk about an unbelievable [and for some an unenviable] situation.
"After being here 18 months, I'm quite certain that I'm here for a reason," Golden said. "I was placed in this circumstance for a reason. That is that I am prepared for it already through the cultural transformation and revolution at Temple where we went from zero wins to nine wins. Now, the edict is to go from six wins to a national championship."
Although Golden and Miami have been extremely proactive in working with the NCAA, to the point of self-imposing a bowl ban last year, there is no telling what the organization will do to punish the school. Golden doesn't worry about that for two reasons. One, he can't do anything about it. No investigators have interviewed him, and he has no responsibility for anything Shapiro did. Second, and he would never say this, but if Miami were to get slammed, Golden could walk away unscathed and find a plum job because of the great work he did at Temple and the class he has shown while in control at Miami.
"We're approaching this the same way all the time," Golden said. "We didn't create it. We're not responsible for it.
"I have had no contact with the NCAA. Zero. It's a function of whenever it's resolved -- on their end -- we'll go to work. It won't change what we're doing. We're in a partnership with the NCAA to resolve it. They appreciate our approach and the openness. They were happy with how earnest our student-athletes were who were involved."
While the Hurricane administrators do their best to mitigate the potential damage, Golden goes about the business of building a winning football program. He has had to change work habits of the players and create a new set of expectations on the field and in the classroom. And he has done a good job of upgrading the talent level -- or at least its potential. ESPN rated Miami's 2012 recruiting class the eighth best in the country, a lofty height the program rarely reached even when it had its biggest success. When Golden talks about this year's contributors, he makes sure to include the names of some freshman at every position, the better to let his holdovers know that he is hoping for plenty of competition every day.
His other challenge is to resurrect the Miami image. There are few programs in the country known more for their reputation and personality than the U. The Hurricanes were renowned for winning, but the swagger and attitude in the program were almost as important as the victories. Golden understands it's important to return to those days -- in a positive way.
"The Miami brand is being received well," he said. "We had a top-10 recruiting class despite the things that happened and despite the bowl ban. The brand is as strong as it ever was. We're a top-40 academic institution and No. 1 in Florida. We have won national championships and bowl games.
"We have to make sure we identify the best student-athletes for our culture, and once we target them, acquire them."
Golden and his staff are doing that. They are making Miami stronger and more physically fit. They have upgraded the talent base and have established the parameters within which they want the players to operate.
Those things they can control. But when the NCAA brings down its hammer, Golden will be a spectator, just like the rest of us. He may be uniquely prepared to handle adversity, but he and the rest of the Miami community hope he doesn't have to test the limits of that preparation.
Head Coach: Al Golden (Penn State '92)
Record at School: 6-6 (1 year)
Career Record: 33-40 (6 years)
• Mark D'Onofrio (Penn State '92) Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator • Jedd Fisch (Florida '98) Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks " George McDonald (Illinois '99) Passing Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers • Micheal Barrow (Miami '92) Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator • Brennan Carroll (Pittsburgh '01) Tight Ends/National Recruiting Coordinator • Jethro Franklin (Fresno State '89) Senior Defensive Assistant/Defensive Line • Art Kehoe (Miami '82) Offensive Line • Terry Richardson (Syracuse '94) Running Backs/Florida Recruiting Coordinator • Paul Williams (Delaware '96) Defensive Backs